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CES 2012: The Shape of TV to Come

Samsung’s new television integrates a number of technologies that have been gathering steam in recent years.
January 12, 2012

While the picture quality and screen size is likely to be the most immediately striking thing about the 55-inch Super OLED TV Samsung unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, some of the less visible technologies in the TV could prove to be more significant in the long term. The Super OLED is, like virtually all new high-televisions, a smart TV, capable of running local applications and accessing the Internet. What’s new is Samsung’s approach to the thorny challenge of the smart TV interface, using motion and voice control.

These large, thin OLED screens can be controlled with voice and gesture controls. Credit: Samsung

The interface problem arises because TV is what’s been dubbed as a “lean back” experience. Most users prefer a simple remote control that allows them to turn the TV on and off, select a channel, and adjust the volume. But navigating a video streaming service, or sending a tweet, are relatively complex activities typically associated with the “lean forward” experience of computers where at least a keyboard (even if only an on-screen tablet one) is available.

One solution is to make the remote control considerably more complicated, incorporating a complete keyboard, which was the tack initially taken by Sony (among others) with its Internet TV, created in partnership with Google. But the approach failed to gain traction. Far more promising has been the idea of using gestural interfaces, which would allow users to control devices without the need for any remote control at all—for example, a user could simply sweep an arm through the air to scroll through a page of search results. The Super OLED uses a built-in camera to capture motion in the foreground to control its smart TV services, supplementing the motion controls with voice controls picked up by a pair of built-in microphones. And it doesn’t seem like it’ll be long before other manufacturers incorporate similar features: at its CES keynote presentation, Microsoft discussed how it intends to adapt the Kinect system originally developed for its XBox 360 game console for interactive TV applications.

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Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

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